The New X-Files Shows Exactly How NOT to Depict Trans People

February 2nd 2016

Lucy Tiven

Monday night's "X-Files" episode was more than a little awkward, but not for the same reasons as the previous two (in which Mulder and Scully joked about Uber and Obamacare). The episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” fumbled to portray a transgender character and landed somewhere between out of touch and transphobic.

Trans Character

Shangela, the trans character, is stereotypically cast as a truck stop prostitute and speaks in an overblown dialect that sounds more like Tracy Morgan in drag than an actual person.

Shangela hits a monster with her purse and describes the incident to Agent Mulder, mentioning her transition in an offhand remark: "[the monster wore] tighty-whities, same kind I used to wear. I transitioned last year." She also tells the FBI agents that she is on crack.


The episode may aspire to offer a lesson in tolerance, but it is a poorly executed one. Though writer Darin Morgan frames dialog about Shangela with a shrink's claims that the real monsters dwell within us, the portrayal of her remains othering and shallow. This is evidenced by Mulder's attempt to explain the transgender experience to an ancient lizard creature:

Lizard: “Man, she hit like a man!”

Mulder: “That’s because she used to be... she once... she’s transgender.”

Lizard: “What? You can’t transform into a different sex! That’s nuts!”

Mulder: “It’s not nuts, it’s actually a very common medical procedure. You don’t need the surgery, technically, to—”

Lizard: “Maybe that’s what I could do! It’s a cure! I've got to stop transforming! I’ll do the surgery!”

Mulder: “No, completely different.”

Lizard: “Tell me how much it costs, I’ll do it.”

Mulder: “They cut off your genitals.”

Lizard: “No, leave it. That’s a step too far, isn’t it.

Still, Shangela, a former contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race, expressed excitement about the role. She tweeted this: 

"The X-Files" is not the only show guilty of deferring to stereotypes in clumsy attempts to voice the transgender experience. Popular crime procedural "Law & Order SVU" recently released an episode exploring the impact of transphobia in a high school. Many viewers interpreted the episode, "Transgender Bridge,"  as a response to criticism of its alleged history of creating problematic trans characters.

"All too often in its 17 seasons on television, L&O: SVU has portrayed trans characters as sex workers, crime victims, undesirables, and caricatures," Dawn Ennis wrote on The Advocate. However, Ennis did credit the creators of the show with at least attempting to provide a more well-rounded depiction of a trans character. 

The fact that more and more network shows and their writers are trying to portray trans narratives may mean that, eventually, these characters will be written with the amount of depth and realism they deserve. But right now, it can get pretty hard to watch.